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Podcast: Getting back to construction industry heath & safety risk management basics

Lucian D'Arco, Group HSE Leader at O’Keefe Group, explains why he, and many of his construction industry counterparts, are concerned that safety basics are being neglected due to Covid-19 distraction.

He talks about five key areas for the industry to focus on, in order to get back to simple risk management practices to keep people safe and avoid liability costs.

Lucian has kindly provided some text to accompany this episode, which can be found in a pdf document

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If you would prefer to read rather than listen to this episode, please see our transcript below.

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Johnny Thomson  00:02

Hello everyone and welcome to the RiskACUMEN podcast, which offers thoughtful insight around risk engineering and management. Today, we're looking at safety at work and we'll be focusing on the construction industry. And I think it's fair to say that a lot of the key messages could also apply to several other sectors. My guest for this episode is Lucian D'Arco, who is group HSEn Leader at O'Keefe Group, a civil engineering and contracting business that operates on significant infrastructure projects in London and in the south east of England. Hi, Lucian, thanks for joining me today.


Lucian D'Arco  00:36

Thank you for inviting me, Johnny and I'm really looking forward to having our chat. 


Johnny Thomson  00:41

Great. Now Lucian and I, as you've probably already picked up on, are both from the north east of England. So there's a slight danger of this episode sounding more like Ant and Dec doing 'I'm a risk management expert, get me outta here', but we're going do our absolute best not to slip into that mode, if at all possible. Instead, Lucian and I will be talking about something that he and his health and safety counterparts from several other construction companies are a little concerned about right now. So let's start by looking at the background to some of these concerns Lucian. 


Lucian D'Arco  01:16

Okay, so obviously Johnny, in everyone's minds for well almost 16, 17 months now, it's been very much COVID-19. It's been very much the control measures and the mitigations around, you know, infection contamination, the social distancing, the signage, you know, it's been very, very, very front and centre. And that's fantastic that everyone has stepped up to the challenge, and is maintaining compliance and obviously saving lives and allowing business continuity. However, it has also created an environment where certain basic site safety requirements, and in some cases, legal compliances are being somewhat overlooked. And it's quite worrying. And this is industry wide, Johnny, this is right across the entire construction sector. And throughout all of this, definitely there has been a distraction from these areas.


Johnny Thomson  02:18

Right. So the message is one of getting back to basics now to avoid injury on site. 


Lucian D'Arco  02:24



Johnny Thomson  02:24

So I mean, what are those basics and kind of what are you and others in the industry coming up with to tackle the main problems?


Lucian D'Arco  02:33

So I mean, obviously, with all construction sites, if these fundamentals are managed correctly, then it allows us to manage the more complex issues in a more competent manner. But if you start letting the ball slip, then that's when issues kind of rear up. And the most basic one Johnny, out of all of, you know, these areas is just simple housekeeping. When you when you've got that constant cycle of waste creation, accumulation, redistribution, repurposing, and then the removal from sites. You know, if you don't keep on top of this process, very soon, your site is swamped. And this will grind to a halt even the most well managed construction sites anywhere, if you allow waste accumulation to engulf the project.


Johnny Thomson  03:26

So this is kind of disorganisation and distraction and things like that, they're the main problems without yeah?


Lucian D'Arco  03:32

A lot of things with housekeeping. Operatives and teams can be focused on one activity, they can allow an accumulation in work areas, for example, say just standard waste, you know, offcuts of wood packaging, packaging is the devil honestly. And you know, you laugh, but it's true packaging is just the one of the biggest issues. But the point is if you allow this to accumulate, if you allow this to build up, you have, for example, a reduction in your access routes, you have a reduction in the physical space that operatives can deliver their own working activities. You are fire loading, you're creating slips and trips, you are building up your own demise. And a lot of guys think, well, someone else will tidy that up. I'm not I'm not touching that. What if it's, what if it's contaminated with COVID-19? Honestly, the amount of times I've heard that, that's just ridiculous. I don't want to brush up because I might be spreading the virus. It's crazy. And it has got to the point where certain projects have been strangled through simple lack of housekeeping. And this and again, this is something that has to be addressed industry wide. A construction site needn't look like a bomb site, basically.


Johnny Thomson  04:53

And you mentioned routes of access and things like that as well, I guess that's part and parcel of that, isn't it? If you're blocking the ways in and out of a construction site, there's a huge danger around that as well isn't there?


Lucian D'Arco  05:06

There is, because sometimes when you look at it from a common sense factor, if you lived at home, would you fill your passage with boxes that prevented you from exiting your house if there was a fire in your kitchen? Of course you wouldn't? So why do they do it on construction sites, why did they allow their own access and egress points to become congested blocked? It's sometimes, I feel like we're going round in circles. When it comes to certain basic stuff in construction. And this must be reinforced, this must be constantly transmitted to the teams, because a lot of the times people think, well, it's it's somebody else's business to sort out these access and egress routes, and they kind of try and deflect the responsibility. But the end of the day, you know, we're all accountable. We've all got to work together as a team, and keep routes of access and egress flowing.


Johnny Thomson  06:07

How do you... I'm interested to know how you keep people onside with this, and so on, especially at this time, because it's a difficult time, people are a little bit more stressed and a little bit more anxious than usual, as you say, and that's probably why some of these problems have come about. So culturally, how would you how do you keep everyone happy, and an on message if you like, with safety?


Lucian D'Arco  06:31

There's no hard and fast answer to this one, Johnny, but a lot of this is all about the engagement. And engagement is massively driven by the personalities of the supervisory layer, if you like in the construction world. And if you support the black hats, if you've got a good safety team that engages with your black hats, if you inspire your blackhats, if you give them the resources and the tools to then trickle down that message, then that's a way to keep that flow of information and keep the message reaching all of those individuals. But if you've got a poor supervisory oversight, then that's going to be fractured. And people are going to be focused on one thing alone, and that's productivity.


Johnny Thomson  07:16

Okay, what other examples of things are you and your, your counterparts seeing?


Lucian D'Arco  07:22

We've noticed an uptick in incidents where segregation of plant and pedestrians are not being adhered to. And by that, I mean, for example, if you have a clearly delineated plant causeway, you will have operatives will try and access that, because you know, it cuts 30 seconds off the trip to the canteen. Or they might think, well, I can just jump over this to pick up this material here and I'll nip back through. And as they do this, you know, they're creating massive risks to themselves and obviously, if you have a massive item of plants suddenly has to veer off to one side that could create issues, especially if it's carrying suspended loads There's so many things can go wrong when you have segregation of plant and pedestrians that isn't complied with. But a lot of that comes back to the fact, if you keep your walkways clear, and if you keep them well signed, and if the supervisory oversight is strong with the team, then the operatives are not going to take that risk, they're going to follow, they're going to comply. So you can see how they all back each other up. 


Johnny Thomson  08:32

And it's clear lines of demarcation and separation isn't it, and good safety signage as well. I would imagine. 


Lucian D'Arco  08:39

Yeah. Again, safety signage, it's not there for a laugh or for aesthetic finish. It is there for a reason. most reasonable humans who have you know, even moderate intelligence, they wouldn't climb over a fence signed with 'these animals are dangerous, then you will definitely be savagely mauled or killed.' You wouldn't would you? Or 'please enter this whirring machine and be cut to pieces?' You just wouldn't do it? Yeah. However, you know, you get signs saying you know, 'access denied' or 'this area's by permit only' and operatives just bimble through because they think, ah well, you know, let's let's cut again again 30 seconds off going to the canteen where I can get on Facebook and you know, check the football scores and look on Instagram. It's just crazy.


Johnny Thomson  09:30

I guess there's another side to signage as well isn't there, that that you can have too many of them, which doesn't help with the overall tidyness and housekeeping of things and the fact that people will just become overwhelmed by them and just think, well, there's so much to read. There's nothing of importance here.


Lucian D'Arco  09:47

Exactly, what I call the white noise syndrome, where too much signage, again, it just overwhelms the operatives. So again, this is where you have to have targeted signage. This is where you've got to have, again with the supervisory oversight, informing the guys at the start of the day you know the relevant signage pay attention to this is this mandatory hearing zones there's a lot of things and again I keep coming back to it, it's that engagement, that communication how everything backs itself up.


Johnny Thomson  10:19

Anything else to add?


Lucian D'Arco  10:21

I think when you talk about access and egress clear walkways, you have to think about material management, because if you're not keeping on top of the placement and repurposing of materials required for the project on your project very quickly, you're going to end up in a situation and, if i give you an example, if you think of Derek Trotter you know from Only Fools and Horses, he would have he would have 40 box tvs in his hallway in his front room in his bathroom. However, you can't do that on a construction site because it's just not logistically practical, it's not safe, again it's a fire hazard it's fire loading where's your access and egress, it's just crazy. But sometimes you know your deliveries are not planned as well as they should be then you're left with these situations. And then when we do get material management building up, one aspect of this, which again is almost as dangerous as excessive packaging, is vertically stacked items. So ask yourself this question Johnny, yeah? If you've got a non structural plywood sheet say 2440 mil by 1220 mil, that's generally the standard size 18 mil thick. They're roughly about 30 kilogrammes. If you had one of those and it kind of slightly tipped fell on you, do you think you could stop falling?


Johnny Thomson  11:53

Yeah, I mean...


Lucian D'Arco  11:55

You might you might struggle yeah you might, you could maybe, I could probably stop one 30 kg board. What about if you had two stacked up, because again you had poor material management, your access and egress, you couldn't fit something in so you've stacked two, what about two falling Johnny, do you think you could stop 60 kg?


Johnny Thomson  12:14

I couldn't stop 30 so...


Lucian D'Arco  12:16

What about three, what about if three went on you, what do you think would happen there?


Johnny Thomson  12:19

Yeah, it's a clear illustration isn't it, that even just a small kind of stacking can create big problems.


Lucian D'Arco  12:26

And they're falling at 9.8 metres a second, you know it's over so very quickly when those boards fall and vertically stacked items are a major cause of injuries within the construction sector.


Johnny Thomson  12:39

Yeah, so sometimes everyone just needs to be reminded of the simple everyday measures that are needed to keep people safe at work. I think it's right, I mean you know you risk engineering and overall management, it's a complex area certainly, you know that from a strategic management perspective, there's there's there's many complex tools and so on you bring in, but at that ground level it is just about getting simple messages across, isn't it?


Lucian D'Arco  13:10

If you boil it right down Johnny, be tidy, don't cause congestion, manage your areas, obey segregation and comply with safety signage. I mean it really isn't rocket science, it's very very basic but this has been kind of pushed to one side because of all the COVID-19 risk mitigation and risk management. But we need to get back to it otherwise we're going to see a massive uptick in the injuries potentially associated with those five core basic areas.


Johnny Thomson  13:46

OK, brilliant. And I think you've also you've put together a written summary of those five key areas that you've mentioned, and if that's okay with you we'll provide a link to a pdf with this episode? 


Lucian D'Arco  13:58

Yeah yeah, of course. 


Johnny Thomson  14:00

So that's that's great, so thanks for that Lucian, and just thanks for your thanks for your time and your insight today. I think it's important sometimes as you've mentioned just to just to get back to the simple stuff.


Lucian D'Arco  14:11

Definitely and thank you very much for the invitation to be on your podcast Johnny, thank you very much.


Johnny Thomson  14:17

No it's been great having you. Thank you very much Lucian. You've been listening to the RiskACUMEN podcast. If you have any questions or comments around the topic that we've covered today, please go to our Linkedin page, which you can find a link to on Thanks again Lucian and stay safe and well everyone and until next time, goodbye for now.



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